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Overstimulation is when your baby or child has basically had a sensory overload. The younger the baby, the easier it is to overstimulate her. Babies have never experiences most of the things happening around them; it is all new. Their senses are all receiving new information. Sights, sounds, touches, smells, and possibly tastes all impact your baby.
Here are a few common causes of overstimulation in the baby:
- Awake Too Long: Keeping your baby awake too long causes overstimulation, and is probably the number one cause of it in the younger months. Make every effort to keep your child’s waketime at her optimal length. See Waketime: Length, Extending, and Calculating: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/waketime-length-extending-and.html and Optimal Waketime Lengths.
- Held Too Long: “Too long” is going to be different for every baby. It is up to you to figure out how long is too long for your baby. This is less likely to be a problem when it is just you and baby at home. This is more of a problem when you are at a large gathering with many different people wanting to hold your baby. It also seems to be more of a problem for a baby older than 6 weeks than those younger. When you have a family or social function, watch your baby and intervene if you see the passing around from person to person is getting to be too much for her.
- Too Much Activity: This can be too much noise, too much visual stimulation, too many new smells, etc. This is most likely to happen in the evening when the whole family is home and, again, at social functions. This can also happen if baby is at a certain toy too long. For example, our bouncer that we have is a kick and play bouncer. When baby kicks, it lights up and plays music. If a baby is in the bouncer too long, she becomes overstimulated.
- Routine Disrupted: This is a capstone of all other reasons I listed. Baby isn’t getting naps as regular, baby’s meals might be off, baby isn’t getting any quiet time to herself, there are several cousins running around having a great time, etc. Things are different from usual and baby has a lot to take in.
Unless you hide yourself in your house for several months, overstimulation is bound to happen. With my babies, I try to avoid overstimulation as much as possible, but sometimes you have something important to be at. You might have a graduation, a wedding, a Christmas party, or something as simple as family here to see the baby. We can’t avoid these situations, nor do we really want to. Here are some ideas for avoiding overstimulation in such situations:
- Give Baby a Break: Whenever I am at a social function like this, I take advantage of a diaper change or feeding to give my baby a break for a bit. I nurse my babies, so I will take them to a room where it is just the two of us. I will keep it quiet. After they are done nursing, I will change the diaper and then just let her lay for a moment. She can lay there in quiet without being held and just get a breather from everyone.
- Allow for Sleep: If you can, have your baby take naps when she normally would. Most newborns will fall asleep in people’s arms. If that happens, allow it. Most babies will outgrow sleeping in people’s arms somewhere around 2-3 months. If your baby is at a point where she just won’t sleep in arms anymore, take her and put her somewhere she will sleep. It might be the carseat. It might be a bed in a room somewhere. Maybe a swing.
Of course, even with our best intentions, baby can get overstimulated. Often times a newborn will basically shut down before overstimulation happens. They will appear to be asleep, but be more of in a neurological shut down. Not all newborns do this though. Brayden was 6 weeks old for his first Independence Day. We went to the parade where he screamed and screamed. It was all too much for him. A nice lady told me I could go up on her porch to get further away from the parade, but he just wouldn’t calm down. I finally just took him home where he fell right asleep. For Kaitlyn’s first Independence Day, she was close to 3 months old. She just went right to sleep for the entire parade.
What do you do once overstimulation has happened? How do you deal with it? At this point, baby is usually fussy if not fully crying.
- Remove Baby From Stimulation: The first thing to do is remove baby from the situation that has her so stimulated. Take her to a quiet and possibly dark place.
- Let Baby Cry: Babies blow off steam by crying. If she needs to cry, let her cry so she can get it out. You can hold her and just let her cry. When Brayden was a baby, we found it was good to lay him on our bed, hold his arms so he couldn’t startle himself with his reflex, and just let him cry. He would get his cry out, then look into our eyes and calm down. He has never been cuddly, so holding him was a bad idea when he was overstimulated–it just made it worse for him.
- Learn Soothing Tricks for Baby: All babies are different. Perhaps when your baby is upset, a certain song is what will calm him best. Maybe he really needs a pacifier. He might like to be bounced. He might prefer to be swayed or rocked. Try tricks out to see what works for him.
- Sleep: Baby most likely needs sleep. Get baby to sleep as fast as possible. Don’t expect baby to fall asleep on her own, either. This is a situation where you put baby in the swing or something to get her to fall asleep. When Kaitlyn was 2.5 months old, we went to a birthday party for my brother in law. Kaitlyn missed a nap altogether. I didn’t have her take the nap while there because Grandma was enjoying holding her, and Kaitlyn was beyond the point of sleeping in arms. When we got home that night, I put Kaitlyn in her bed. By that age, she didn’t ever cry before falling asleep. That night, she did. At first I thought she would just need to blow off some steam. We soon realized she was not going to fall asleep on her own. We moved her to the swing, which usually knocked her right out. In the swing, she cried for 20 minutes before falling asleep. It gets hard for them to fall asleep once they are overstimulated, which is why I caution you against expecting her to do it. You can always try, but if it isn’t working, don’t force it. For church, Kaitlyn always missed a nap. She wouldn’t sleep in arms and wouldn’t sleep in the carseat at all. Up until about 6 months old or so, we would get home and put her right in the swing to sleep. At some point, they are old enough and experienced enough to go to sleep after being overstimulated, but be mindful in the early months.
- Return to Schedule: Once baby has the sleep she needs, get her back on the schedule she needs. Also, watch her during following waketimes to see if he needs a shorter than usual waketime.
Please feel free to share any tips you have found to work for helping with overstimulation.
- Playtime: Don’t Over Stimulate
- Baby Whisperer: Respecting Baby
- Establishing Consistency–Make Sacrifices: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/establish-consistencymake-sacrifices.html
- Dealing With Disruptions To Your Routine: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2007/12/dealing-with-disruptions-in-your.html
- Let Your Schedule Serve You, You Don’t Serve Your Schedule: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2007/12/let-your-schedule-serve-you-you-dont.html